Electric vehicles: California leads the charge

Anmar Frangoul | Special to CNBC.com
Electric cars are taking off here

When it comes to renewables, the state of California has ambitious plans, with a goal to have a third of its electricity coming from renewables by the end of 2020, and half by 2030.

With this push for change, electric vehicles are increasingly being seen as a clean, alternative mode of transport than can help drive down emissions.

"The state of California has been extremely aggressive in… bringing in other states to have aggressive greenhouse gas goals and accomplishments: We at the city level are doing the same thing," Bob Hayden, from the San Francisco Department of the Environment, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

For Arcady Sosinov, who lives in California and drives an electric vehicle, switching from gas has proved to be a boon. "I started using an electric vehicle to save money," he said.

"I knew how cheap it is compared to gas vehicles, but why I really loved using it is because of access to HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, because of special parking and because I never have to deal with any maintenance," Sosinov added.

A range of incentives have been brought in by the state to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles across California.


One measure includes permission for single-occupant vehicles with a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker to use high occupancy vehicle lanes, as well as rebates of up to $5,000 for new zero emission or plug-in hybrid light-duty vehicles.

One organisation looking to encourage more people to adopt zero emissions vehicles is non-profit Charge Across Town. They say that the Bay Area is home to "more electric vehicles on the roads than any other region in the U.S."

For Meg Ruxton, partnerships manager at Charge Across Town, having a network to charge vehicles is just as important as getting people to purchase them.

"I think we need to invest simultaneously in electric cars and charging infrastructure," she said.

"Consumers are going to buy cars if there's charging in place, and businesses are going to put in charging stations if there are enough consumers with cars who are going to come and charge at their businesses," she added.

Increasing usage of electric and hybrid vehicles stands to benefit both the environment and U.S. economy.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that if hybrid or electric vehicles completely replaced light-duty conventional ones, U.S. dependence on foreign oil would fall by between 30-60 percent. Plus, carbon pollution from the transport sector would fall by up to 20 percent.

"We've got a couple of benefits with electric vehicles," Hayden said. "Cutting down air pollution… because we do have health related problems related to diesel emissions and other vehicle emissions."

"We're cutting those down as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the climate. All of that comes together with electric vehicles."

Global appeal:

Across the world, more and more authorities are looking to encourage people to transition from using traditional gas-guzzlers to cleaner modes of transport.

The city of Amsterdam, for example, has more than 1,000 charging stations, with Amsterdam City Council targeting 4,000 by 2018. What's more, all taxi journeys from the city's main airport, Schipol, are made in Tesla Model S electric vehicles.

While electric vehicles have a clear benefit to the environment, there are other ways of fueling a car – or any kind of transport – in a sustainable way.

For Arpad Horvath, a professor at the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, biofuels could be part of the solution, though not in the immediate future.

"The existing biofuel production system is unsustainable, the future will have to be based on plant waste or household waste or some other waste materials," he said. "We're still figuring out the best way to turn them into biofuels at scale," he added.